This morning I was gathering together some photos to accompany an article I had written about walking across China. Just as I was about to send the pictures off to the magazine publisher, I came across one I didn't remember. Next to it was another I had no recollection of - not until I stared at it for nearly 30 seconds, wracking my brain for a memory hook. It's amazing how some of these experiences get away from us. I suppose that is one of the nice things about taking photos on a journey, and especially making a film of these types of expeditions - a visual memory bank, freezing a spot in time and space and capturing it as it was then and may never be again.
Before I knew it I'd spent the next couple of hours drifting off down memory lane, flicking through photographs. Lots of them made me smile, or shiver, or just bathe in the nostalgia, but what I always find time and time again is that the most evocative pictures are always those of people - the characters that really make these trips such wonderful and unique experiences.
Let's be frank - good travel writing can change your life.
There's no end to online lists and discussion about what may be the best travel book ever, but this blog post is not intending to wade into that arena. Reading (and talking and thinking about) good travel writing is one of my favourite pastimes.
Some of these works have changed the way I think about the world, others have sent me across the globe. Least Heat Moon inspired me to cycle across America with the warning-come-promise to "be careful going in search of adventure - it's ridiculously easy to find." (2010.)
Rory Stewart convinced me that walking a long way was a jolly good idea when he described how he had "...been walking one afternoon in Scotland and thought: Why don't I just keep going? There was a magic in leaving a line of footprints stretching across Asia" (2011.)
Thesiger sent me to the Empty Quarter in search of "peace in the hardship of desert travel, and the company of desert peoples." (2012.)
I quietly fear what the inevitable impact of Ernest Shackleton's epic tale will be...
The power of words should not be underestimated! Below, in no particular order, are my five favourite (or five of my favourite ) travel books.
Have you read them? What would you put on your list?
1- South - Ernest Shackleton (currently free on Kindle)
2- Arabian Sands - Wilfred Thesiger
3- Blue Highways - William Least Heat Moon
4- A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush - Eric Newby
5 - The Places Inbetween - Rory Stewart
New Years Resolutions are surely one of the most popular topics of conversation at this time of year. And why not? It’s a fantastic opportunity to make an advantageous change or adjustment in life – a reason to finally get around to doing that thing we’ve been meaning to do for a long time.
The catch is, however, that most of us fail. Around 88%, according to a National survey done in the UK a few years ago. That seems to me to be an astoundingly high failure rate. What’s more is that most people I talk to now seem to be almost expecting that they too will fail – there is an impression that succeeding is very unlikely, so while it’s worth giving it a bit of a go, we shouldn’t worry too much when it falls apart. This seems to me utterly daft, although I’ve fallen into the trap often myself.
Last year was a busy one for me. I started 2012 in China; six weeks into a seven month, 3000 mile walk across the country from the Gobi desert to the South China Sea (www.leonmccarron.com.) I completed the journey and was back in the UK by June, and in November I set off again to trek 1000 miles across the Empty Quarter desert in Oman, finishing just before Christmas. I was delighted to have had the chance to undertake two great expeditions, yet I still fell short on some of my other goals for the year. I had wanted to write my first book, but only got a few thousand words into it before I lost motivation. I also failed to keep up my pursuit of becoming fluent in Chinese So one of my New Year’s resolutions this year has been to keep up my New Years resolutions. For the purposes of transparency, here is what I have vowed to do in 2013:
If I could change one thing about myself, it would be to cast off my tendency to often be wishing I were somewhere else. (That, or I’d make myself super-handsome and muscly, but this is a better blog post.)
Since returning from my latest expedition in Mongolia and China, I’ve been living in London. I live in a lovely little flat just minutes away from Hampstead Heath in the north of the city. I’ve always felt that if I must live in a big city (and for now I must!) then I need to be near large green spaces. Hampstead Heath with its trees, hills, ponds and trails fits the bill perfectly.
Here's a piece I wrote recently for Tourism New Zealand. NZ is a country that really caught my imagination before I went, and absolutely lived up to everything I expected from it. Undoubtedly my favourite country during my cycle from New York to Hong Kong, check out my top 10 experiences below. Agree, disagree? Happy to hear your thoughts!